The Edge is a 1997 American survival drama film directed by Lee Tamahori and starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin. Bart the Bear, a trained Kodiak Bearknown for appearances in several Hollywood movies, also appears in the film as a vicious grizzly; this was one of his last film roles.
The film was written by David Mamet, and despite the unusual setting it touches upon many themes common to Mamet’s other works, including the bonding of strong male characters, tough posturings, and playful surprises. The story explores, through action and intricate dialog, the survival instincts of these men in terms of their competition with each other and with their environment.
Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins), a billionaire with a photographic memory; Robert “Bob” Green (Alec Baldwin), a photographer; and Stephen (Harold Perrineau), his assistant, arrive in a remote Alaskan locale via Charles’ private jet, along with Charles’ much-younger wife, Mickey (Elle Macpherson), a beautiful fashion model. After landing and boarding the floatplane to finish the journey, Charles opens a wrapped book about survival in the wild, apparently a gift from an employee. The group, who intend to conduct a photo shoot, are the only guests at a lodge. Styles (L.Q. Jones), the proprietor, warns everyone that the region is inhabited by bears and not to leave food uncovered.
At night, Mickey sends Charles to scrounge something from the kitchen. While there, Charles finds a ham left out next to a door open to the outside. Fearing bears, Charles closes the door. While still pumped with adrenalin, he is surprised by the group with a midnight party to celebrate Charles’ birthday. Mickey gives him an engraved pocket watch. Bob’s present is an expensive hunting knife.
Charles is seen the next day reading and absorbing the contents of the survival guide. Bob and his team do a photo shoot of Mickey. Charles sees Bob and Mickey kiss. When Bob’s male model gets sick, he and Stephen plan a flight to a different location where a photogenic local man lives. Charles is convinced to go along. At the man’s house, they find a note on the door stating the he has gone hunting about twenty miles further north. Cryptically, Bob pockets the note. Before leaving, Charles uses his new knowledge to instruct the group to avoid a trapping pit outside the cabin.
In mid-air, Charles, suspicious that Bob and Mickey are having an affair, cryptically asks how Bob is planning to kill him. Before the conversation goes any further, the plane suddenly hits a flock of birds and nose-dives into a lake, killing the pilot. Charles, Bob, and Stephen barely escape safely to shore. Because Bob pocketed the note, they are now twenty miles from where anyone will look for them.
Lost, wet, and freezing, the three men attempt to hike to a more likely search area, only to find that a male Kodiak bear is stalking them. They elude it by hoisting a fallen tree to act as a makeshift bridge across a narrow river channel. Stephen and Bob cross first. During Charles’ attempt, he falls into the rapids below and Bob grabs him downstream along with Stephen, saving his life. The rescue apparently leads Charles to doubt his earlier suspicions of Bob.
Stephen cuts his leg badly. Charles stops the bleeding with a rag. He then asks Bob to bury the rag. Bob leaves the rag exposed where its scent can attract bears. That night, the bear attacks their camp and Charles and Bob are forced to abandon Stephen, who is killed.
Though not an outdoorsman, Charles draws upon his newly acquired and encyclopedic survival knowledge to guide them, and the men work together, bonding somewhat, though an air of mistrust still separates them. Tired and hungry, they find their way back to the river and Charles produces a field-expedient fishing line. The bear interrupts before anything can be caught and the two again narrowly escape. While still on the run from the bear, they spot a search and rescue helicopter but fail to signal it in time.
In a moment of despair and hunger, Charles resolves to bait the bear and kill it. Despondent, Bob is rallied to the cause by Charles’ admonition, “What one man can do, another can do!”, which he forces Bob to repeat. The phrase becomes a battle cry, and the men prepare for the confrontation. Armed with spears hand-carved from tree branches, and using a cloth soaked in Charles’ blood, they lure the bear into a swinging trap of sharpened sticks, which fails to injure the bear badly. The men retreat, and the bear begins to maul Bob. Charles distracts the bear, luring him away from Bob. As the bear rears up and prepares to pounce, Charles grounds his spear into a crevice. As the bear descends it is impaled under its own body weight, saving both mens’ lives.
Now following the river south, the men find an empty hunters’ cabin. Bob rushes in, while Charles notices a trapping pit here too. The cabin contains some supplies: liquor, tea, matches, wood, a stove, a rifle with bullets, and a canoe. Bob grabs the rifle. Charles reasons that the river should lead back to the lakeside lodge, so they test the canoe to see if it’s watertight.
Charles offers to make tea. Charles looks for paper with which to start a fire. He remembers the box in his pocket from Bob’s gift, and pulls the enclosed receipt from inside. As Charles is about to light the receipt to use as tinder, he notices the details (presumably he recognizes Mickey’s handwriting, but this is not made clear). Three items had been bought together: the knife Bob had given him, the watch his wife had given him, and also a watch for Bob engraved with an intimate message from Mickey. Charles realizes that Bob and Mickey are indeed having an affair, and that Mickey has tried to divert his attention. He now knows that Bob is going to kill him to obtain his wealth and wife. Bob drinks to prepare himself, causing Charles to lament that Bob is unable to kill him sober. Bob orders Charles outside, and as Bob is about to shoot him, Charles maneuvers Bob into stepping backward into the trapping pit.
Bob suffers a mortal wound, but rather than leaving him to die, Charles transports him downriver in the canoe. They make camp, and a fire to keep Bob warm. Bob apologizes for betraying Charles, and says Mickey didn’t know he intended to kill him. A rescue helicopter appears and spots them, but Bob dies before it lands.
Back at the lodge, Bob’s body is removed from the helicopter, Charles hands Bob’s watch to a sober-looking Mickey, his expression telling her that he knows about her adultery. He then enigmatically declares to the gathered press that the other men died, “saving my life.”
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